Discover Rapanui storycase, an award-winning eco-fashion brand, described by the Guardian as “Bang on Trend”.
Rapanui founders Rob & Mart Drake-Knight grew up in Sandown Bay, on the Isle of Wight. Their childhood was a series of crazes – Tamagotchi, yo-yos, pogs, rollerblading and skateboarding – but the one that really stuck was surfing. From their clifftop home, they spent a lot of time at the beach in-between school time… or sometimes during. Entrepreneurship started early; Mart’s most successful inventions (a fold up surfboard, a wind-powered streetlight, and a d-i-y downhill go-kart) all made it to the business proposal/patent stage thanks to older brother Rob’s appetite for business. Rapanui, established in 2008, was their first successful venture.
At 20 and 22 respectively, Rob and Mart set up their brand from a shed in their parent’s garden, which 5 years later makes some of the most sustainable casualwear in the world. (Thankfully the shed is gone). They describe their business as “another craze, but it’s got totally out of control”.
The first months got off to a shaky start with £70 blown on letter headed paper and half the shirts embroidered the wrong way up. Here’s the first T-shirt on display at the Rapanui Factory, Cowes.
The 2010 collection, the brothers achieved their first goal – producing a range of organic, ethical and wind-powered clothing that was not uncool. Only a few years ago, this was heralded as “Game Changing”, a sign of how much things have changed for the better these days.
In 2011, while working on the sustainability concept of Rapanui products, Rob and Mart’s thoughts became more focused on communication and economics, more precisely on traceability: ” it’s not that people don’t care about this stuff, it’s just they don’t know. So, we developed interactive trace maps so our customers could see where our clothing comes from, and how it is made.”
By 2012, Sir Richard Branson stated: “Rapanui are in my list of the top 50 global eco companies.”
Mart studied renewable energy so Rapanui get on with companies working with wind, solar and wave power. The factory in India, where all Rapanui stuff is made, is powered by Vestas Turbines that were designed on the Isle of Wight.
By 2013 the Britain brand put a dozen people through apprenticeships, delivered about 100 talks at local schools and gave another 60 people work experience. Rapanui was picked up by UnLtd, a social enterprise charity that gets the top 50 social enterprises in Britain and helps them with support and funding to scale their social impact. Rapanui’s work on youth unemployment was awarded a big old slap on the back – plus some cash to buy a new machine, on the condition that we created a few more similar careers.The brand has created 20 salaried jobs for 18-25-year-olds on the Isle of Wight.
The Rapanui factory was designed with plans to bring manufacturing back to the Isle of Wight. After lots of false starts and hurdles, Rob and Mart got their project started in 2014 in the abandoned JS Whites Shipyard, Cowes. The factory houses offices, stock, printing equipment and IT in different halls.
“When we were designing the production floor we were wondering if we could connect with our IT systems that run the Rapanui online store with miscellaneous pieces of printing machinery and spent a couple of months hibernating to see if we could write the code and adapt the kit. What emerged worked so well it was scary. It also cut our waste in half, improved profit and allows us to print a load of amazing designs with new animal-friendly inks. It certainly has taken us a big step closer towards Eco-friendly t-shirt printing, one of our most difficult hurdles.” Rapanui
@HelpRefugeesuk launched a big campaign to raise some cash to make life more bearable for the many people escaping conflict in Syria and Iraq. Loads of people, including celebrities wanted to get involved and Rapanui was asked if they could print some shirts designed by original mastermind of the slogan tee movement, Katherine Hamnett. The proceeds from this campaign meant that HelpRefugeesUK and their supporters could spread the word, raise awareness and fund the campaign.
In 2016 Rapanui launched Teemill Public Beta. Formerly invite-only for charities and good causes, Teemill is now open to anyone – artist, startup, band, business or individual, to build their own store and connect it to our real-time, on-demand supply chain. It removes all the barriers to entry for people looking to start a business, using tech and selling sustainable products. Find out more here
“Fashion is like no other medium, in that you literally dress yourself in what you believe in. Rapanui gives people a choice to vote with their wallet for ethical fashion. We want to use the power of fashion to make eco cool, and design traceable, transparent products that let you shop quickly with a conscience.”
“Somebody once said to us that we’d overestimate what we’d achieve in one year, but underestimate what we’d achieve in five. Of all the well-meaning business advice handed out to us over the last few years, that one we remembered. And it’s the one we dish out most when asked for tips. It’s been an amazing journey so far.”
Rob & Mart Drake-Knight , founders of Rapanui
Rapanui aims to make a genuine contribution to sustainability. Rapanui’s secret formula is in a question: “What if David Bowie was an eco-warrior?” After all, Bowie managed to convince millions of men to dye their hair, put on makeup and dress themselves in high heels and tight trousers, It happened. That shows the power of fashion, its ability to change lifestyle, behavior and buying actions. Rapanui plans to use the same secret ingredient, the power of cool, to do some good.